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Published April 12, 2009, 12:00 AM

Valley City prepares for worst flooding ever

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Residents are pulling together this Easter weekend to protect this city of 6,800 from a historic flood.

By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, INFORUM

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Residents are pulling together this Easter weekend to protect this city of 6,800 from a historic flood.

Mayor Mary Lee Nielson said she’s confident the city is prepared, but it’s challenging when there are no benchmarks to use.

The National Weather Service predicts the Sheyenne River will rise to 22 feet in Valley City by Tuesday, or two feet higher than the record set in 1882. Flood stage is 15 feet.

The crest prediction is so high, officials have had to make new river charts.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rich Schueneman, Valley City-based resource manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Releases from Lake Ashtabula through the Baldhill Dam north of Valley City were at 5,500 cubic feet per second Saturday. At noon today, releases will be 6,000 cubic feet per second.

The water takes about 12 hours to reach Valley City, Schueneman said.

Contingency levees are built to 24 feet, and 100 National Guard members are in town patrolling them around the clock. Once the water reaches record levels, it’s expected to stay high for weeks.

By Tuesday, every bridge in town will be closed, with the exception of the one at Eighth Avenue.

The usually picturesque campus of Valley City State University along the Sheyenne is now a muddy mess surrounded by contingency levees.

When the river reaches its peak, the water will flow over the antique walking bridge, a campus landmark.

Because bridges are closed, the only route to the campus is a steep one-lane road adjacent to a contingency levee.

Employees and students will get to campus this week using a mandatory shuttle service to cut down on traffic congestion.

President Steve Shirley said he doesn’t expect to close the campus unless there’s a major levee breach.

Classes have already been canceled two days and two afternoons to give students and employees time to volunteer.

Officials are closely watching four buildings that are near the river, but they expect the levees will protect the campus.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., spent the weekend in Valley City, where he was born, and has helped fight floods since 1969.

Pomeroy attended flood meetings and helped sandbag.

He said he’s impressed with the preparations the city has made since the National Weather Service issued the crest prediction March 17.

“This is a place without the resources of a city like Fargo,” said Pomeroy, whose boyhood home flooded three times in the 1990s and was part of a FEMA buyout.

Just outside of Valley City, people who live along the Sheyenne recruited friends and neighbors to help sandbag their homes.

Kim Franklin, the Barnes County emergency manager, said one subdivision is under a voluntary evacuation order because bridges are expected to be closed.

Volunteers completed a ring dike around the home of Roxanne and Daryl Stensland on Saturday.

In 1997, the family had sand and bags ready just in case, but this is the first time they’ve needed to fill them.

Daryl Stensland is captain of the fire department and had been busy working at sandbag central last week.

Trina Kvilvang’s driveway became a mini sandbag central Saturday for her neighbors in a subdivision south of town.

Instead of a traditional Easter spent with family, Kvilvang said most people will probably spend today with friends.

“It’s an Easter we’ll never forget,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590